The spirit of St. Louis – the St. Louis Cardinals, that is – was felt in the Muskego High School gym on Thursday night.
The Muskego boys volleyball team showed the same heart and never-say-die attitude of this year’s Cardinals when they edged New Berlin, 25-23, 20-25, 26-24, 19-25, 15-13, in a heart-pounding WIAA sectional championship match.
Just like the World Series champs, the Warriors came back from the brink of defeat and proved time and again that although they might be down, they were hardly out.
The Warriors trailed 8-4 in the deciding fifth game, seven points from defeat, but produced a stirring rally. They scored six straight points on the serve of Sammy Pedersen to take a 10-8 lead, then held on to win on a couple of kills from outside hitter David Mlachnik and a key block from middle AJ Pratt. When New Berlin put the ball into the net on the 28th point of the final game – and the 215th point of the match – the Warriors had the victory.
It marked the second time this week that Muskego came back from a four-point deficit in a fifth game. Against Franklin on Tuesday, the Warriors trailed by an even more intimidating 14-10 score but eventually prevailed 17-15.
“We always say, ‘why not?’” coach Joe Arbinger said. “We’ve kind of been coming back all year long in all of our games. Why not? These guys have incredible heart and desire to win, and it shows. Coming back today, putting together that run to take the lead in that fifth game after being down by four points, it’s amazing.
“These guys then bounced to another level after that and were able to finish.”
Outside hitter Joey Bandoszeski added, “Coach says it’s our heart, and I think that’s what it is. We always play great when we’re down.”
Mlachnik said the team attitude has a lot to do with the penchant for comebacks.
“It’s our energy and our staying positive as a team, definitely,” he said.
Muskego’s reward for all this is its first-ever trip to the state tournament, which will take place next weekend at Wisconsin Lutheran College. The Warriors will take on Kaukauna at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, in their opener.
To finally claim that elusive state berth, the Warriors had to outlast New Berlin in a thrilling back-and-forth duel.
In the first game, which featured eight ties, the Warriors trailed 23-21 before scoring the final four points on Mlachnik’s serve. Mlachnik himself capped the run with a booming kill for the victory.
New Berlin led through most of the second game, as Nick Olson hammered down 11 kills, including the final point.
Game three was tied 24-24 on a kill from Matt Nieberle of New Berlin but Mlachnik came up with a kill. New Berlin then slammed the ball into the net on an attempted kill to seal Muskego’s 26-24 victory.
Back came the United in the fourth game as Olson added five more kills, including the game-winning point.
That sent the match into the deciding fifth game, and Olson pounded four more kills as New Berlin took its 8-4 advantage.
Muskego was not done, though.
“We knew that if we pushed, we got our serves in and we put up blocks, we would come back,” setter Tony Fugarino said. “Our hearts were in it, and a lot of passion.”
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